Stakeholder engagement and management is one of the essential Project Management disciplines. But it is often taught in a simplistic manner. The standard ‘four-box’ approach to deriving stakeholder engagement strategies can easily leave newer project managers believing there are just four basic strategies they can use.
But this is far from the truth. In fact, there are many stakeholder engagement strategies you can choose from. And you can apply each of these with a wide range of tactics and approaches to suit your situation.
But, if you don’t know the full range of strategies, you’ll find yourself responding in a way that is too coarse-grained. So, in this article, we’ll delve deeply into the full range of Stakeholder Engagement Strategies.
Let’s Set the Scene for Stakeholder Engagement Strategies
There are two things we need to cover before we look at our set of stakeholder engagement strategies. These will help any less-experienced project managers to catch-up. Particularly those who are not as familiar with the subject as others.
If you read the opening paragraphs and were not completely sure what we meant by:
- Stakeholder engagement and management, or
- The standard ‘four-box’ approach to deriving stakeholder engagement strategies
…then read on. If you know what these two mean, then do jump to the next big heading.
Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
Here’s What We Cover…
- Let’s Set the Scene for Stakeholder Engagement Strategies
- What are Stakeholder Engagement and Stakeholder Management?
- A Summary of the Stakeholder Engagement Process
- So, Stakeholder Engagement, or Stakeholder Management?
- The Standard ‘Four-Box’ Approach to Deriving Stakeholder Engagement Strategies
- Improved ‘Four-Box’ Approach to Deriving Stakeholder Engagement Strategies
- Strategic Postures: From Adversarial to Supportive
- Strategic Engagement: From Withdrawal to Involvement
- The Full Set of Stakeholder Engagement Strategies
- What is Your Experience of Selecting and Implementing Different Stakeholder Engagement Strategies?
What are Stakeholder Engagement and Stakeholder Management?
‘… and what is the difference?’ we could ask, too.
Let’s start with a short video.
So, stakeholders are:
Anyone with an interest in your project – whether affected by its outcome or process, or with an ability to affect its outcome or process.Decode the Jargon of Project Management:, by Dr Mike Clayton.
Therefore, ‘stakeholder engagement’ is the process of engaging with stakeholders. And ‘stakeholder management’ is an older term for the same thing, which is still used but is now widely deprecated.
A Summary of the Stakeholder Engagement Process
In the video, I show a simple diagram of the five-step stakeholder engagement process. To make it easier for you to review it, here it is again.
So, Stakeholder Engagement, or Stakeholder Management?
As the video says, Stakeholder Engagement is a more respectful – and more modern – term for what we used to call Stakeholder Management. And the PMI is following along too. It has partially adopted the term in its latest version, the 6th Edition, of its Project Management Body of Knowledge: the PMBoK.
But, if a I have a criticism, it is that it has still retained the label Project Stakeholder Management for the overall Knowledge Area. And, I cannot help thinking that there is a simple (and foolish) reason for this. Every other knowledge area is titled as Project ‘this’ Management or Project ‘that’ Management. So, it feels to me like they put the pattern above good sense. But that’s just my opinion.
That said, we are waiting for the 7th edition of PMI’s PMBOK Guide to see how far they continue with the term Stakeholder Management (which they used in the 6th edition). Or will they come up-to-date and use the term ‘stakeholder engagement’ exclusively?
Stakeholder Engagement Management
A term that I do use is ‘stakeholder engagement management’. This is the management of the stakeholder engagement process.
Now we’ve reviewed the meaning of stakeholder engagement and stakeholder management, let’s take a look at the other thing I mentioned in my opening paragraph…
The Standard ‘Four-Box’ Approach to Deriving Stakeholder Engagement Strategies
There are lots of variants on this. But, the standard approach to charting stakeholders is to plot them on two axes:
The level of interest they have in your project and the changes it will create
The amount of power they have to influence things
Rating each of these as either ‘high’ or ‘low’ yields the most commonly used stakeholder analysis chart.
A you can see, this analysis yields four stakeholder engagement strategies:
- Work together
Improved ‘Four-Box’ Approach to Deriving Stakeholder Engagement Strategies
This gives us the four strategies of:
- Monitor and Outvote
Keep an eye on them and over-ride their preferences if necessary
- Woo and Win
- Inform and Coach
Give them the means to influence on your behalf
- Enroll and Employ
Make the best use of these stakeholders’ enthusiasm
…but the effect is still the same. A poverty of strategies.
This is as it should be…
And the reason why these charts give us so few strategic options is simple. It is because they should never be used as your only stakeholder analysis tool. Indeed, they are solely designed as a triage process – a quick sorting to give you prioritization and an early indication of the ‘kind of strategy’ you’ll need.
It’s Time to Power-up
Of course, for small projects, I’ll agree that this might be enough. But otherwise, you’ll need to go further. And that’s why I want to introduce you to a far larger set of strategies. This will really power-up your project stakeholder engagement.
Here’s a thought for you:
Influencing Stakeholders: Start at the Bottom
Strategic Postures: From Adversarial to Supportive
The secret to a good strategy – in any context – is to ask the right questions.
And the first question to ask, when you want to choose your stakeholder engagement strategy, is:
‘What is the appropriate posture?’
You have a spectrum of options that range from:
- asserting our preferences, to
- accommodating theirs
Let’s take a look at what this looks like.
Focus on Stakeholders:
Accommodating their Needs
The supportive end of this spectrum of stakeholder engagement strategies will focus on the stakeholder’s own needs and preferences. I’ll illustrate with three gradations. And, we’ll start with the most accommodating of their needs.
You are prepared to make substantial concessions to the stakeholder, to help you achieve your primary intentions
You are prepared to work together with the stakeholder, to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes.
You are prepared to consult and respect your stakeholders’ opinions. You are open to compromises that meet some of their needs.
This is an even-handed strategy where you balance your needs against those of your stakeholder.
You are open to a full sharing of information, and balanced compromise.
Focus on the Project’s Objectives:
Asserting our Preferences
At this end of the spectrum, we have stakeholder engagement strategies that favor your project. I’ll illustrate these with three examples that move from a gentle pushing forward of your preferred position, to the most adversarial advocacy and assertion of your preferences.
Use of promotional or persuasive tactics, to influence your stakeholders in a positive way, to endorse your project point of view.
Resisting compromise and providing strong counter-arguments to your stakeholder’s point of view.
Prepared to fight hard to optimize your project’s position. The extent of your tactics must be constrained by ethics, good practice, and the need for a good long-term relationship with your stakeholder.
Strategic Engagement: From Withdrawal to Involvement
The second question you need to ask, to determine your stakeholder engagement strategy is:
‘To what extent do we wish to engage with this stakeholder?’
Here, the answers will range from:
- Active avoidance, to
- Active engagement
We can illustrate the spectrum here with these seven levels:
- Active avoidance
This will be appropriate where you are either not ready to engage, or there are positive reasons for non-engagement. These will usually be dangers, like:
- a risk of divulging confidential information, or
- a stakeholder that is too angry and poses a treat
- Passive engagement
Here, you do nothing active to engage. You simply keep an eye on the situation, with a view to shifting level if you need to.
- Minimal engagement
This is a purely reactive stance, responding to events and to your stakeholder.
- Low engagement
Now you are engaging actively, but with minimal effort. Examples include information-sharing and active review of your relationship.
- Active engagement
Building a dialogue with your stakeholder, so you understand one another better.
- Positive engagement
Working hard to further your strategic stakeholder engagement posture.
- Full engagement
Going all-out to get the result you want, with this stakeholder.
The Full Set of Stakeholder Engagement Strategies
If we put together the two dimensions of:
- strategic posture, and
- strategic engagement
…we get the full set of stakeholder engagement strategies.
This leads to a simple diagram. The diagram illustrates this with labels for each level. However, you will understand this best by focusing on the two spectra. This way, you’ll be able to design your strategic stakeholder engagement strategy from an understanding of where you are on each axis.
What is Your Experience of Selecting and Implementing Different Stakeholder Engagement Strategies?
As always, we’d love to hear from you. So, please share your experiences, your ideas, and your questions. If you put your comments below and we’ll respond to any contributions you make.
You might also like our feature articles:
- Project Stakeholder Management Knowledge Area: A Guide to Stakeholder Engagement
- The Top 20 Stakeholder Analysis Techniques All PMs Should Know
- How to Plan Your Stakeholder Engagement Campaign
- Stakeholder Leadership: Leading Bystanders as well as Followers
- Difficult Stakeholders: 4 Steps to Engage them
- How to Handle Stakeholder Objections
- Project Politics: How to Win the Game of Projects
- Podcast: Politics and Stakeholders
Why not treat yourself? Buy a copy of Engaging Stakeholders on Projects: How to harness people power.